Taking a cue from the handbook of queen bee Regina George, Philadelphians dressed in pink and gathered at the Kimmel Center on Wednesday for a special evening with Upper Darby’s Tina Fey.
Fey sat down with childhood friend and TV Guide senior writer Damian Holbrook to discuss 15 years of Mean Girls and the Philadelphia debut of the Broadway musical adaptation; the national tour is scheduled to play the Academy of Music Nov. 19 to Dec. 1. Tickets went on sale Wednesday.
“It’s so exciting to be able to take it to other cities and people that wouldn’t be able to go to Broadway to see it,” Fey said during the panel about the show’s national tour. "And seeing these talented, young actors take on these roles — these actors, they know the movie, they have grown up with this movie.”
Based on the 2004 film of the same name, Mean Girls follows South Africa-raised teen Cady (played in the movie by Lindsay Lohan) as she attempts to survive the social jungle of an American high school after moving to the States. Directed by Casey Nicholaw (The Book of Mormon, Aladdin), the stage adaption took The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and 30 Rock creator five years to complete and earned 12 Tony nominations in 2018, including best musical.
In her panel discussion with Holbrook, Fey talked about how the movie and musical differ. That includes a joke Fey rewrote multiple times after the male punchline kept being named in “Me Too” movement controversies. The story’s narrative has also shifted to the present day, incorporates social media, and offers more nuanced looks into the lives of characters like Regina and Mrs. George.
“The biggest difference between when this movie came out 15 years ago and now is social media,” Fey told the Inquirer. “And so social media exists in it, we touch on it, but my feeling was it was just a new weapon. The battle was the same and that the core behaviors are between human beings. It’s not a comment about social media. It’s about human behaviors.”
Some changes were the result of Fey’s inviting a group of girls and women aged 15 to 20 to watch early rehearsals and offer feedback. All of them were “super helpful" in keeping her teenage tale timeless as it made its way from the screen to the stage, Fey said. So was the musical’s dedication to its ultimate message.
“The core of the story is to not lift yourself up by tearing others down,” Fey said. “[That] emotional core is the same and the motivations for why people make these mistakes, why they don’t behave as good friends, is the same no matter how it plays out, no matter where it plays out."
Beyond discussing her adaptation process, Fey and Holbrook chatted about how the “real strong b- sense" of Philadelphians informs her humor, her favorite Philly team (it’s the Flyers), and her longtime love for musical theater. The self-professed theater nerd said her earliest musicals were Cats and 42nd Street, the latter of which she saw at the Walnut Street Theater.
That love was further developed in her later teens at Upper Darby Performing Arts Center’s Summer Stage theater camp, where she worked in the box office. It was a place Holbrook jokingly described as “lawless," and from which Bossypants author Fey drew inspiration when writing Mean Girls.
Another real-life source for her Mean Girls film was Holbrook, who has known Fey since she was 12. The former Saturday Night Live cast member used her friend and his brother as the basis for the Damian character (played by Daniel Franzese in the film), though Holbrook told the event’s crowd the musical version is much more like his brother.
The decision to draw from a real place when writing Mean Girls, Fey told the Inquirer, had its challenges, especially when it came to selecting character names.